What was Mothering Sunday?

What was Mothering Sunday? Mothering Sunday is a Christian festival celebrated throughout Europe that falls on the 4th Sunday in Lent. Secularly it became a celebration of motherhood. It is increasingly being called Mother’s Day, although in countries other than the UK and Ireland that holiday has other origins. In the UK it is considered synonymous with Mother’s Day as celebrated in other countries.

In the Roman religion the Hilaria festival was held in honour of the mother goddess Cybele and it took place during mid-March. As the Roman Empire and Europe converted to Christianity, this celebration became part of the liturgical calendar as Laetare Sunday, the fourth Sunday in Lent to honour the Virgin Mary and the “mother church”.

During the sixteenth century, people returned to their mother church for a service to be held on Laetare Sunday. This was either a large local church, or more often the nearest Cathedral. Anyone who did this was commonly said to have gone “a-mothering”, although whether this preceded the term Mothering Sunday is unclear. In later times, Mothering Sunday became a day when domestic servants were given a day off to visit their mother Church, usually with their own mothers and other family members. It was often the only time that whole families could gather together, since on other days they were prevented by conflicting working hours, or, more usually, since holidays had not been invented yet, that was the only day in the year that they were allowed off.

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